Commentary

Editorial: Cooper environmental veto should stand

A Fayetteville Observer editorial hits the nail on the head this morning with its call on state lawmakers to sustain Governor Cooper’s veto of the dreadful proposal that’s come to be known as the “garbage juice” bill. Here’s the Observer in “Leave the ‘garbage juice’ bill dead”:

We have to wonder: Were our lawmakers celebrating the passage of the Brunch Bill a little early when they also passed the Garbage Juice bill? They certainly couldn’t have been thinking clearly.

The brunch legislation lets restaurants and retailers sell alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays, two hours earlier than the law currently allows. Cities have to approve the earlier sales too before they are allowed. Raleigh and Carrboro have already done so. Fayetteville will likely follow suit soon — it’s on the City Council’s Aug. 3 agenda and Mayor Nat Robertson says he hopes to have it legal here by Sept. 1. “It’s common sense to me,” Robertson said.

But there were no signs of common sense in the legislative approval of a measure that would allow landfill operators to “aerosolize” the contaminated liquids that leak from under landfills. The bill requires the Department of Environmental Quality to approve permits that allow spraying of the “garbage juice” into the air over the landfill, where it will then evaporate. It is likely the cheapest way to take care of a problem that accompanies any garbage-disposal operation. But that liquid is highly toxic and it’s not hard to imagine the fine mist drifting a bit from the landfills to adjoining neighborhoods.

In many cities and counties, landfills tend to be located among poor, often minority, neighborhoods, where residents already must put up with the flies, rodents and heavy truck traffic that are standard features of municipal garbage disposal. Adding the rancid mist of “garbage juice” is more than an insult — it’s an assault.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the Garbage Juice bill, as he should have. If lawmakers try to override that veto, their drinking privileges, with brunch or otherwise, should be permanently revoked.

You can learn more about the utterly absurd garbage juice/”leachate” legislation and the Guv’s veto by reading Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg’s stories here, here and here.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. GOP pulling out all the stops to maintain its unconstitutionally elected majority

Legislative leaders are scrambling for their political lives after the conservative U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the legislative districts they drew to lock in the power they gained in the 2010 election were unconstitutional because they were racially gerrymandered.

They are desperately trying to avoid two things that could put their supermajority control of the House and Senate in jeopardy, holding a special election in 2017 and/or having the federal courts draw the districts themselves instead of letting lawmakers try again to manipulate the maps to extend their hold on power.

There is not much doubt about what would happen if voters went to the polls this year. President Trump is historically unpopular at this point in his presidency with only 36 percent of Americans approving of the job he is doing while 60 percent disapprove. [Read more…]

2. A plea to responsible North Carolina gun defenders
Please, please, please ask your hardcore allies to calm down

As anyone paying attention to policy debates in North Carolina in recent days is well aware, the age-old battle over guns and gun violence is front and center right now. Thanks to a proposal narrowly approved by the state House of Representatives last week, North Carolina is a step closer to deregulating the carrying of concealed weapons.

A practice that leaves millions of people feeling queasy (even when it’s closely regulated through mandatory registration and training laws) could soon be, for all practical purposes, a complete free-for-all. Under the proposed bill, 18 year old children whose brains, science confirms, are far from fully developed, could soon be completely within their rights to pack loaded handguns in their sweatshirt pockets without any training or oversight whatsoever – even as they are denied the right to lawfully purchase beer (and cigarettes in several states and cities).

Not surprisingly, the latest debate has raised temperature levels for many of those who have felt compelled to participate. [Read more...]

Bonus read:

3. Senate passes leachate aerosolization  (i.e. “garbage juice”) bill; now heads to Gov. Cooper

During her political career, Sen. Trudy Wade, a Guilford County Republican, has often heeded the beck and call of the solid waste industry. She has sponsored bills to relax protective buffers between landfills and wildlife refuges, to allow garbage trucks to be only “leak-resistant” rather than leak-proof, and to discontinue electronics recycling.

This afternoon, Wade again came to the defense of the garbage business, this time cheerleading on the Senate floor for House Bill 576. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the Allow Aerosolization of Leachate bill would allow waste companies and municipalities to spray leachate — essentially juice that has percolated from the garbage into tanks — over the surface of a landfill.

There are several problems with this bill, one being that DEQ is forced to allow the technology to be used as long as certain basic siting requirements are in place. [Read more…]

Bonus environmental reads:

4. Three-judge panel denies Gov. Cooper’s request to halt elections, ethics merger pending appeal

A three-judge panel has denied Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to halt a law that merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission pending his appeal.

The panel dismissed Cooper’s second lawsuit over the law about two weeks ago. He filed a notice of appeal on June 6 and a request to stay the merge pending that appeal.

The judges’ order denying his request does not state a reason, only that they reviewed case documents and other matters of record before coming to their conclusion. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

5. Draft policing reforms for Wake schools come up short say children’s advocates

A draft agreement that sets campus police policy in North Carolina’s largest school system has yet to be publicly released, but the much anticipated document is already fetching criticism from youth justice advocates.

That comes with school board members in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) expected to hold a June 20 vote on a revised “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) with 11 local law enforcement agencies that, based on a draft obtained by Policy Watch this week, includes limited changes to district policies and eschews many of the broad calls for reforms from community advocates.

Wake County’s campus police rules have been under scrutiny since a 2014 federal complaint alleged inappropriate referrals to school resource officers (SROs) for black students and students with disabilities, although interest spiked again this year after a videotaped altercation between a SRO and a teenage girl at Rolesville High went viral in January. [Read more…]

*** Upcoming event on Tuesday, June 20: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon. The crises surrounding the Trump presidency:  A conversation with nationally acclaimed scholar, author and commentator Neil Siegel. Learn more and register today.

Environment, Legislature

Even with coal ash amendments, House Bill 374 takes an unsavory turn for transparency

 

In its original incarnation, House Bill 374 was relatively innocuous. It regulated ZipLines and established rules for the storage and public disclosure of hazardous chemicals. But that was in April.

Now it’s June, time for lawmakers to dust off dormant or placeholder bills and quietly embellish them with often pernicious language. Exhibit A: The new HB 374.

Heard yesterday in the Senate Commerce Committee, HB 374 now limits who can challenge an environmental permit, eliminates public notice on extensions to landfill agreements, and, before a last-minute amendment, essentially killed coal ash recycling requirements.

Under current law, all people or groups who could be harmed by a permitted activity can challenge a DEQ permit. HB 374 would limit the complainants to only those who had previously submitted public comment.

This eliminates the appeal rights for people who don't or can't comment Click To Tweet

“This eliminates the appeal rights for people who don’t or can’t comment,” Jamie Cole, policy advocate for the North Carolina Conservation Network, told the committee. “There can be a lack of notice and opportunity.”

Unless someone knows where to find public notices on the DEQ website (under “News” at the homepage) or examines the ultra-fine print in a newspaper’s classified section (those legal notices in publications may soon disappear via another bill), they might not be aware a comment period or hearing is happening.

Limiting public access to the courts guarantees that people won’t get justice,” Brooks Rainey Pearson of the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the committee.

Democratic Sen. Angela Bryant bemoaned the new provision. “This is a significant change,” she told her colleagues. “We’re ramming this through an omnibus bill that involves both a judicial and an environmental process.”

Read more

agriculture, Environment

What’s that smell? The Farm Act of 2017.

This is a farm. To keep wedding venues from posing as farms, Senate lawmakers had to define the term in the Farm Act.

W hile the House dashed through its version of the state budget at the speed of light, for the past two days the Senate Agriculture/Natural Resources Committee plodded through other Very Important Business: the finer points of the farm act, the criminal element that is rumored to loiter near stream buffers, a hinky provision concerning coastal development, and what has become a crowd favorite — leachate aerosolization.

First, SB 615, the farm act.

Veterans of the legislature rightfully become concerned when a lawmaker says “All this section does is x.” Or, as Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, quipped: “This is one of the shortest ones I’ve run in the last few years and the least controversial. We’ll see here in a moment.”

The 16-page bill (that started as four) would temporarily exempt from odor rules those farms that store poultry manure to be used for renewable energy. The Environmental Management Commission would have to craft an amendment to the existing odor rule governing waste-to-energy storage. These changes must go through public comment so the rule could take several months, if not a year to enact.

“All this does is allow a farmer to buy poultry litter from multiple sources to burn as renewable energy,” Jackson said. Otherwise the facility would fall under an industrial class and be subject to odor rules. “If there’s just one source, you may not have enough to keep the system running.”

The premise sounds reasonable, except the so-called hog nuisance bill just became law, and the language is vague enough that poultry operations could be included in it. Under that statute, citizens are limited in the amount of compensatory damages they can be awarded for agricultural inconveniences like bacteria from fecal matter on their homes or acrid odors in their living rooms.

“Let’s say I’m a citizen who wants to complain about odor, can I get an injunction?” asked Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from northeastern North Carolina.

The answer is yes. Citizens can file an objection with the NC Department of Environmental Quality. They can sue and/or ask a judge for an injunction. But lawsuits require money and time. And odor exemptions could be abused.

The other reasonable-on-its-face-questionable-in-real-life section would strip counties of their authority to adopt zoning regulations governing all types of farms. If a farm is “bona fide” — that is, generates at least 75 percent of its gross sales from farming activities and qualifies for a conservation agreement — then it is exempt from local zoning regulations.

Jackson said the 2007 permanent moratorium on the construction of new hog farms removes the need for county ordinances governing them.

We’re trying to clean up our boots,” Jackson said.

Existing farms are grandfathered under the moratorium, although they can’t expand. Farms with advanced waste systems can be built, but none have been, so far. But if such a modern farm were to be constructed, a county could not use its zoning power to restrict its location.

And finally, it might seem silly that lawmakers have to define the term “farm,” but indeed they do. Many rural Orange County residents oppose the Barn of Chapel Hill, aka “the Party Barn,” which hosts weddings, because of concerns over noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The Barn is on 22 bucolic acres near White Cross. But two beehives and a smattering of flowers do not a farm make. There must be official government paperwork. There must be evidence that you’re legit. Only then can there be noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The bill passed the Senate Ag committee. It now heads to Finance and Judiciary.

Next: HB 56 and HB 576, environmental laws and the leachate bill.

Environment

DEQ appeals Judge Fox’s ruling on Brickhaven mine, coal ash

The state appellate court will determine the difference between a mine and a landfill, now that the NC Department of Environmental Quality has appealed a previous decision restricting where coal ash can be buried.

NC DEQ filed a notice of appeal last Friday, seeking a second opinion to  Chatham County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox’s ruling in late March that the department should revoke two of the four mine reclamation permits it had issued to Charah/Green Meadow, Inc. Those permits allow the Kentucky-based company to dispose of coal ash in newly excavated areas, as well as existing abandoned clay and slate mines. Although both types of disposal areas are lined, Fox’s order determined that the new areas are landfills, and subject to more stringent regulations than structural fill mines.

2017-05-04 DEQ’s Notice of Appeal Brickhaven by lisa sorg on Scribd

DEQ spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the department is appealing Fox’s ruling because it believes the permits were issued properly. Charah is also appealing the order, while asking to continue to dispose of the ash in new areas until the issue is resolved.

The suit was brought by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, EnvironmentaLee and Chatham Citizens Against the Coal Ash Dump.

The Brickhaven mine near Moncure has received 3.5 million tons of coal ash, about half of it from Duke Energy’s Riverbend plant near Mt. Holly. In March, Charah alerted DEQ that Duke had detected PCBs in Riverbend ash at concentrations of 1 part per million. While federal law allows ash with contamination at these levels solid waste landfills, Chatah told DEQ it would not accept any material with PCBs that exceeded 1 part per million.

Brickhaven is the same mine where a controversial leachate aerosolization experiment will start later this summer. DEQ issued Charah a permit to conduct a 90-day field trial using this technology, which lacks any scientific evidence for safety. DEQ will require Charah to monitor for metals and other contaminants in the air and report them to the department.

House Bill 576 would allow landfill operators to use leachate aerosolization, but without the oversight of a state permit. The legislation would also require DEQ to allow companies to use this method. If the bill becomes law, legislators would overstep their roles and dictate to DEQ’s scientists a preferred technology.